PEOPLE with disabilities are still struggling to cope with the aftermath of the floods.
Not only was it more challenging for them to evacuate safely during the widespread disaster, many are now dealing with the additional financial burden from the damage to the specialised equipment they need for their day-to-day activities.
Damai Disabled Persons Association president V. Murugeswaran said they needed financial help even more urgently than other flood victims at this time.
“In addition to damage to their personal belongings and electrical appliances, they need to replace or repair items such as wheelchairs, adjustable beds and ripple mattresses,” he told StarMetro.Murugeswaran said the floods, which hit eight states last year and earlier this month, was especially traumatic for the disabled.
“Many had to endure the water levels rising every minute with no help in sight.
“Some wheelchairs were completely ruined by the floods,” he added.
The association received distress calls from disabled flood victims, with many complaining of poor response and lack of help from government agencies.
“Our volunteers visited two visually-impaired couples living in a double-storey house whose massage centre on the ground floor was destroyed.
“They are devastated as their means to earn a living and source of income are gone.
“The disabled among the flood survivors have asked us for wheelchairs with detachable armrests as they are easier to transport, but we only have standard wheelchairs,” said Murugeswaran.
He said the association was established in 1998 with the main objective of helping the disabled to be independent.
“We offer financial assistance and provide services such as wheelchair repairs.
“We have to see if it makes sense to repair a damaged wheelchair.
“The internal mechanism of a motorised wheelchair, such as the motherboard, will cost a lot of money.
“The least expensive motorised wheelchair can cost between RM3,000 and RM4,000.
“A better quality one can go up to RM10,000.
“The battery alone can cost RM1,000,” he said.
When asked about flood contingency plans for the physically challenged, Murugeswaran said temporary evacuation centres needed to be disabled-friendly.
“Many of those displaced during the flood, mostly senior citizens, said community halls and other places where they sought shelter did not have toilets that were accessible to them.”
He said it was essential that evacuation centres be equipped with disabled-friendly washrooms.
“Community halls and other places often used as flood relief centres must have these facilities.
“People living with disabilities should also be taught about natural disasters, including safety procedures they should follow.
“There should be programmes to inform them about flood risks and what to do in an emergency as well as during the evacuation process.
“More importantly, we must educate volunteers on how to help people with disabilities,” he said.
Noraini Md Daud, 65, from Kampung Baru Hicom in Section 26, Shah Alam in Selangor, uses a wheelchair to get around because of her mobility impairment.
Noraini, who has diabetes and high blood pressure, had to abandon her wheelchair and hobble to safety during the floods.
She had to rely on family members to get to a neighbour’s double-storey house.
“No rescuers came to our aid during those three days when the floodwaters rose past our windows and blew out the electricity.
“It was very scary,” she told StarMetro.
On another street in the same village, stroke survivor and wheelchair-bound Mohd Isa Arsad, 70, said he was alone at home when floodwaters rose past his chest at 9pm on Dec 18.
“My two sons who live in a flat nearby had to wade through the water, lift me from the wheelchair and place me in a plastic barrel to transport me to safety.
“The electricity went out at about 11pm, and it was dark for three days,” he said.
Kampung Baru Hicom village head Abd Malek Abd Rashid hope that the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) and National Security Council would be more prepared to handle natural disasters like floods from now on.
He said Nadma should have made early preparations.
Abd Malek said the villagers had received RM2,000 for post-flood recovery.
The loss and damage might have been minimised if the authorities had acted quickly, he added.